This is a translation of a piece by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, originally published in Portuguese in Visão on the 19th of October and translated into Spanish for Rebelión by Antoni Jesús Aguiló, whose version I used for the translation into English.
In search of political subjects
In a normally functioning liberal democracy, the question of the political subject does not get posed because society, organised politically into parties, generates the subjects necessary for the guidance of collective life. Portuguese democracy is not functioning normally, as is the case in other countries in the south of Europe. The reason is known: it is a democracy under the tutelage of a foreign force that does not answer to Portuguese people. The government is a delegation of an international business agency. It is from here that all the other signs of abnormality flow. Among the thousands of citizens who demonstrate in the street one can grasp an obvious anti-party feeling that encompasses the entire political spectrum. This clamour at times slides into anti-politics, where all extremisms germinate. But so great is the creativity of the Portuguese crisis that the right wing has generated its own outrage against power. Prominent figures of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Democratic Social Centre (CDS) demonstrate with such fury that the distracted citizen does not even realise that it was they who for decades cooked up the political mediocrity now in power. We have two movements of indignados, those who only have the street to show their outrage, and those who can rely on newspapers and radio and TV stations to do so.
Out of all this, it emerges that parties in power are an absent political subject, whilst there does not seem to be an alternative subject, since the Socialist Party (PS) after signing the memorandum and supporting public-private partnerships, could only be an opposition if it started to oppose itself. The expression of the absence of political subjects on the right and in the centre can be found in the proposal for a national unity government that pivots about the crisis until Europe resolves it. Waiting for Europe is the same as waiting for Godot. If we do nothing for the new Europe (which involves organised disobedience against the memorandum and all the politics and economics that it entails), the old Europe will do nothing for us. Hence my conviction that we are in search of new political subjects.
I do not believe the conditions are there for the emergence of a political subject of the far right. The most credible scenario has two dimensions. The first is the formation of a new political subject that captures the energy of thousands of citizens prepared to leave to one side their party loyalties to find a solution for the country via concrete alternatives. It is not a matter of creating a new party, but of creating an electoral and political front through an act of re-founding two parties, the PS and the Left Bloc (BE). The PS calls an extraordinary congress, it disassociates itself from the referendum and the contracts with draconian agencies and chooses a leader to weather the storm (the current leader is one trained in and for times of calm). The BE, also meeting in congress, frees itself from all vanguard ideology. It chooses a rearguard leader, capable of making BE walk alongside society’s excluded and especially those who move slowest. Re-founded in this way, both parties can generate a new political subject of high democratic intensity.
The second dimension consists of a convening, which I suggest as of now, for a Social Forum of the South of Europe, to take place in the coming year. It will complement and expand on the immense potential revealed by the Democratic Congress of Alternatives. For one, it will be European and not just Portuguese, in addition, it will be called by social movements and organisations, and not just by citizens. This Forum will discuss the ways ahead for Europe starting from the premise of its deep democratisation. It could generate the energy that causes the European Union to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, currently a joke of dubious taste. It will be called by old and new social movements, by indignados, unions, the unemployed, immigrants, feminist movements, anti-racists, ecologists, LGBT etc. Unions will then feel strengthened and accompanied, more capable of coexisting with diversity without suffocating it under an avalanche of red flags and long and dense speeches by their leaders.